Recently I had the opportunity to record some electric guitar at Basement Studios, Wimborne. It was an interesting process as it gave me the opportunity to look at recording procedures (for all instruments) in more detail, especially with regards to the hardware and techniques used.
Mark Pitfield, the bass guitarist for the recording session, has over 35 years experience of playing the bass guitar in the local music scene in Dorset. Guitar Jar catches up with Mark to extract some of that valuable experience to share with other bass guitarists and in addition, there’s a brief video with producer Sean Hatton explaining the hardware and techniques used to capture Mark’s bass during the recording session.
Q&A with Bass Guitarist Mark Pitfield:
Mark with his modified acoustic guitar
How long have you been playing bass?
I started aged 16 around 1973, so about 37 years!
What attracted you to playing the bass? A bunch of us at school listened to the Free ‘Live’ album for about a year! The bass playing of Andy Fraser on that album inspired me because he held everything together beautifully and managed to play decoratively as well. Since then I’ve never wanted to play anything else.
What bass guitars have you used significantly over the years? I couldn’t afford a bass when still at school so bought a cheap 6-string acoustic from Woolies. I took off the top two strings and spread out the bottom four evenly to make my first bass! Next I had an unnamed electric Fender Precision copy with a high action, which I used for about seven years. In 1981, on the recommendation of a wise guitarist friend, I bought a Kasuga Japanese ‘Lawsuit’ copy of a Rickenbacker 4001, also known as a Kasuga EB-750, for £100. This bass has definitely been the most significantly used over the years. Used consistently for over twenty five years in fact and a great bass for studio recordings too. Sadly it had to go in 2009 to finance the purchase of a new amp.
What bass model are you using now and why?
An Ernie Ball MusicMan StingRay 5. Professional bass players have long been praising MusicMan basses and I finally got my hands on one in 2004. I thought the fifth string might have been a problem after playing with four for over thirty years but after a couple of months it seemed so natural to have a low B string. It’s definitely the best bass I have played. I’d love a four-string MusicMan one day too though! I also have an Aria fretless four-string and an acoustic four-string bass.
When you are asked to play with bands, how do you approach learning their material and creating bass lines that suit the song? These days if there is a CD with the songs on I just play along with it at home until I get it right. For cover versions I will probably already know the bass line, because, much to the annoyance of my family and friends, I tend to hum the bass lines when listening to music! For original material I am perfectly happy to play the bass exactly as directed by the band too. With my years of experience, I have lots of runs I play without even thinking about it. The key is always to ask yourself: “Am I improving the overall sound of the music?”.
Mark playing his Kasuga Japanese ‘Lawsuit’ Rickenbacker copy
Do you tend to use similar bass runs for all the different genres of music you are involved with or do you try and play to the individual song? There are some runs that work on anything, like going up and down the octaves, and others that don’t. Usually once you get into the song you know what works best. I particularly enjoy playing jazz runs on Rock ‘n’ Roll numbers – it helps relieve the boredom – and it works!
Do you use a plectrum or fingers? I have always used fingers. I find it easier to deaden the other strings that way. Also you have more control over the volume of each individual note when plucking.
What bass amp are you using? Now I have a Gallien-Krueger MB150E/112 series III. It has a built-in Chorus effect and I love it because it is small and light in weight but packs a serious punch in volume! My playing has improved since I got it because of its sharp, bright sound.
Are you a spontaneous player or do you have your bass lines worked out in advance? A bit of both. In most songs there are places you have to be as a bass player (like choruses), and others where you can drift off. My mistakes often come after a spontaneous moment and then I fail to get back to the root note on time!
Mark Recording at Basement Studios
What tips would you give to bass players who are learning their instrument with the desire to gig on a regular basis? Practice everyday if you can and play along to music at home. That way you get used to keeping time, and playing with the bass drum, and learning how structures of songs work. Listen to all sorts of music, not just your favourite, we can learn from other bass players all the time. Have a listen to ‘Be My Friend’ from the Free ‘Live’ album and listen to the great Andy Fraser. Try ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ by The Police to hear how a song can be completely changed by the bass player alone (around three minutes into the song). Realise that it is a big responsibility – if you go wrong for long the whole song could collapse. However you are the one who controls the mood of every song and make people dance. Don’t be too busy, bass is often more impressive when you leave gaps. Good bass players are rare – be proud of it! AND you don’t have to put up with the attention that the singer and lead guitarist get!